25 Most Startling Independent or Foreign Directorial Debut Features

This list is limited to directors whose first full length feature was an independent or foreign language film and who subsequently continued to make other noteworthy and interesting films.

Unfortunately the list criteria caused some great films/directors to be omitted; for example "The Usual Suspects" by Bryan Singer, since he directed one unnoteworthy low budget feature a couple years earlier.

The films selected, however, do demonstrate the early promise of the associated director and feature striking visuals and/or unusual and unique scripts and characters.
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1.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant. (99 mins.)
“ by Quentin Tarantino
Later notable films: Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction ” - pklose
 
2.
Lord of the Flies (1963)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Lost on an island, young survivors of a plane crash eventually revert to savagery despite the few rational boys' attempts to prevent that. (92 mins.)
Director: Peter Brook
“ by Peter Brook ” - pklose
 
3.
The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Mr. Neville, a cocksure young artist is contracted by Mrs. Herbert, the wife of a wealthy landowner... (108 mins.)
Director: Peter Greenaway
“ by Peter Greenaway ” - pklose
 
4.
Delicatessen (1991)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Post-apocalyptic surrealist black comedy about the landlord of an apartment building who occasionally prepares a delicacy for his odd tenants. (99 mins.)
“ by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Later notable films: Amelie ” - pklose
 
5.
Diva (1981)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Two tapes, two Parisian mob killers, one corrupt policeman, an opera fan, a teenage thief, and the coolest philosopher ever filmed. All these characters twist their way through an intricate and stylish French language thriller. (117 mins.)
“ by Jean Jacques Beineix ” - pklose
 
6.
Red Sorghum (1987)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
In 1930s China a young woman is sent by her father to marry the leprous owner of a winery. In the nearby... (91 mins.)
Director: Yimou Zhang
“ by Yimou Zhang
Later notable films: Raise the Red Lantern, Hero ” - pklose
 
7.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
In the 16th century, the ruthless and insane Don Lope de Aguirre leads a Spanish expedition in search of El Dorado. (93 mins.)
Director: Werner Herzog
“ by Werner Herzog
Later notable films: Rescue Dawn ” - pklose
 
8.
Eraserhead (1977)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Henry Spencer tries to survive his industrial environment, his angry girlfriend, and the unbearable screams of his newly born mutant child. (89 mins.)
Director: David Lynch
“ by David Lynch
Later notable films: Elephant Man, Mulholland Dr. ” - pklose
 
9.
Blood Simple. (1984)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple. (99 mins.)
Director: Joel Coen
“ by Joel and Ethan Coen
Later notable films: True Grit, No Country For Old Men, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Fargo, The Big Lebowski ” - pklose
 
10.
Crash (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Los Angeles citizens with vastly separate lives collide in interweaving stories of race, loss and redemption. (112 mins.)
Director: Paul Haggis
“ by Paul Haggis
Later notable films: The Next Three Days ” - pklose
 
11.
Amores Perros (2000)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A horrific car accident connects three stories, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret, and life's harsh realities, all in the name of love. (154 mins.)
“ by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Later notable films: Babel, 21 Grams ” - pklose
 
12.
Mephisto (1981)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A German stage actor finds unexpected success and mixed blessings in the popularity of his performance... (144 mins.)
Director: István Szabó
“ by Istvan Szabo ” - pklose
 
13.
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A sexually repressed woman's husband is having an affair with her sister. The arrival of a visitor with a rather unusual fetish changes everything. (100 mins.)
“ by Steven Soderbergh
Later notable films: Oceans Eleven, Erin Brockovich, Solaris ” - pklose
 
14.
Repo Man (1984)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  
Young punk Otto becomes a repo man after helping to steal a car, and stumbles into a world of wackiness as a result. (92 mins.)
Director: Alex Cox
“ by Alex Cox ” - pklose
 
15.
THX 1138 (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Set in the 25th century, the story centers around a man and a woman who rebel against their rigidly controlled society. (86 mins.)
Director: George Lucas
“ by George Lucas
Later notable films: Star Wars, American Graffiti ” - pklose
 
16.
Black and White in Color (1976)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
French colonists in Africa, several months behind in the news, find themselves at war with their German neighbors... (90 mins.)
“ by Jean Jacques Annaud
Later notable films: Seven Years in Tibet, Quest for Fire, Enemy at the Games ” - pklose
 
17.
Europa Europa (1990)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A boy in Nazi Germany, trying to conceal that he is Jewish, joins the Hitler Youth. (112 mins.)
“ by Agnieszka Holland ” - pklose
 
18.
Shallow Grave (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Three friends discover their new flatmate dead but loaded with cash. (89 mins.)
Director: Danny Boyle
“ by Danny Boyle
Later notable films: Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting ” - pklose
 
19.
Following (1998)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A young writer who follows strangers for material meets a thief who takes him under his wing. (69 mins.)
“ by Christopher Nolan
Later notable films: Inception, Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige ” - pklose
 
20.
Cube (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Six complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless kafkaesque maze containing deadly traps. (90 mins.)
Director: Vincenzo Natali
“ by Vincenzo Natali ” - pklose
 
21.
Kontroll (2003)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
A tale about a strange young man, Bulcsú, the fellow inspectors on his team, all without exception likeable characters, a rival ticket inspection team, and racing along the tracks... And a tale about love. (105 mins.)
Director: Nimród Antal
“ by Nimrod Antal
Later notable films: Vacancy ” - pklose
 
22.
Thesis (1996)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
While doing a thesis about violence, Ángela finds a snuff video where a girl is tortured until death. Soon she discovers that the girl was a former student in her faculty... (125 mins.)
“ by Alejandro Amenabar
Later notable films: The Others, Open Your Eyes, The Sea Inside ” - pklose
 
23.
Pi (1998)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A paranoid mathematician searches for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature. (84 mins.)
“ by Darren Aronofsky
Later notable films: Black Swan, The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream ” - pklose
 
24.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A puppeteer discovers a portal that leads literally into the head of movie star John Malkovich. (112 mins.)
Director: Spike Jonze
“ by Spike Jonze
Later notable films: Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are ” - pklose
 
25.
Knife in the Water (1962)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
On their way to a sailing trip, an aging husband and wife invite along an emphatic young hitchhiker out of sheer patronization. (94 mins.)
Director: Roman Polanski
“ by Roman Polanski
Later notable films: Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, The Pianist ” - pklose